High-quality guitars are more likely to last longer than poor ones but it doesn’t mean they don’t require any maintenance or care. Guitars consist of various metal components that are susceptible to corrosion hence should be taken care of properly. Regular cleaning and proper maintenance is essential to keep any product in its best condition. Guitarists should learn how to keep the sensitive parts of the instrument clean and protected from corrosion. It is necessary because rusted and damaged guitar cannot produce rich and loud sounds. The parts like tuning keys, strings, pickups and knobs play the most important role in generating clean sounds hence their consistent maintenance is much necessary.
Guitar corrosion doesn’t only destroy the sounds but also makes it uncomfortable for guitarists to play the instrument. Specific materials like steel and iron are prone to corrosion and in this article; we’ll tell you how to keep the metal parts of guitars clean and rust-free.
What is Corrosion
Corrosion is basically a deterioration of metal due to environmental factors. It occurs when a chemical reaction takes place between metal and its surrounding environment. This is a natural phenomenon that occurs in the presence of moisture, metallic surface and electron acceptor, an oxidizing agent. When corrosion takes place, a reactive metal surface converts into a more stable form. The most common form of corrosion is called rust.
All metal surfaces are prone to corrosion. Some materials such as pure iron corrode quickly whereas some corrode slowly e.g. stainless steel. Corrosion damages the surfaces badly and causes various negative effects. If a guitar is rusted, it won’t be able to produce as rich sounds as it was used to before corrosion. You have to prevent guitar string rust in order to enjoy loud and high-quality sounds. Even a minor corrosion requires proper repairs otherwise it may spread further and destroy the product entirely. Fortunately, corrosion is preventable with proper maintenance and consistent cleaning.
There are different types of metals in the world used by builders and product manufacturers. Each class has its own electrochemical properties that identify the intensity and speed of corrosion it is susceptible to. In the chart above, you can see different types of metals and their details regarding corrosion and preventive measurements.
In this table, the column of galvanic activity is referring to the chemical activity of the relative metal. When two metals are put together in a liquid solution, galvanic corrosion takes place. The more the galvanic activity there will be, the faster galvanic corrosion will occur. Other than that, you can also see some preventive measures in the third column for each metal type to keep it in its best condition and enjoy higher performance.
Materials of Guitar Can Be Corrode
Like many other things, metal is also used in the manufacturing of guitars. There are various parts of guitars that are made up of different types of metal and can corrode over time if not cleaned consistently. In this section, we will tell you which materials are used in the making of guitars and can corrode easily.
Electric and Bass Guitars: When it comes to the manufacturing of electric and bass guitars, different types of materials can be used to prepare the effective strings. If we take the popular choice of professional guitarists and bassists, the nickel plated steel is considered to be the best option for string making. This material provides well-balanced, warm and rich tones. In other metals, pure nickel and stainless steel are also used to make the strings of electric and bass guitars for warmer and brighter tones. You will also find some guitars with strings made from copper-plated steel, titanium and chrome.
Acoustic (Steel String): The strings of acoustic guitars are usually made up of bronze and phosphor bronze materials. Bronze strings are not 100% bronze made as they also include 20% zinc in the making. Unfortunately, these 80/20 bronze strings are not long-lasting but offer bright and crisp tones. While on the other hand, the phosphorus bronze strings are quite durable but offer less brighter tones than the former one. This material significantly helps in preventing guitar string corrosion hence widely preferred by acoustic guitarists. There are also some acoustic guitars with compound strings that include both, metal and nylon strings. They are perfect for soft playing styles.
Classical (Nylon String): The classical guitars usually come with nylon strings that provide an ideal balance between warm and bright tones. Nylon strings offer solid projection and come in two types: Black nylon and clear nylon. The black nylon is a little warmer than clear nylon. The bass strings of the classical guitar are usually made up of 80/20 bronze material that provides brighter tones and perfect projection. There are also some made up of silver plated copper, a material that offers warmer tones.
How to Prevent Guitar Corrosion
As we have already mentioned, guitars are prone to corrosion because there are many parts of it made up of different types of metal. No matter how expensive a guitar is or how well it is made, it is always susceptible to corrosion if not kept well cleaned or maintained correctly. From strings to tuning pegs and pickups to knobs, all metal made parts of guitars can get rusted when exposed to environmental surroundings. But, don’t worry here are some practical ways to prevent guitar corrosion.
#Step 1: Protecting Your Strings
Keep your hands clean before playing: the most straightforward and cheapest way of avoiding guitar strings from corrosion is to play them with clean hands. The naturally accumulated oil and dirt on your hands stick to the strings and lead them to destroy eventually. Sweaty palms also increase the chances of string corrosion. You must wash your hands with soap even if they are looking spotless. Play strings with adequately washed and well-dried hands to avoid corrosion. Make this your habit, and you will notice that strings remain spotless for longer duration and don’t require frequent cleaning.
Wipe the strings with a clean, lint-free cloth after you play: although you can replace the rusted strings with fresh ones, why not save some money by adopting some good guitar maintenance habits? Always clean the strings with a soft piece of cloth after playing. Even if your hands were well washed and dried, a little amount of sweat must have been released during the session. Clean that residue left by your hands on the strings properly. Cover the strings from both sides with a folded piece of cloth and wipe them gently to clean the sweat and dirt.
Using rubbing alcohol to wipe the strings: Cleaning guitar strings before and after playing it is a good habit but you also need to carry out proper cleaning procedure weekly to prevent corrosion. With a dry piece of cloth, you can only clean dirt and sweat but not stubborn rust marks. If you don’t know how to clean rusty guitar strings, here is the simple way to do it at home. Take some alcohol or string cleaning solution in a bowl and dump a soft piece of cloth with it. Wring it well and then start wiping the rust marks with dampened cloth.
Changing the new corrosion-resistant strings: Another way to prevent guitar strings corrosion is to replace the ordinary strings with corrosion resistant guitar strings. For acoustic guitars, you can get phosphorus bronze made of strings that do not get rusted so quickly. For electric guitars, you can use stainless steels that do corrode but very slowly. These types of metals are not immune to corrosion but provide extended use than ordinary strings. Comparing to corrosion resistant strings, bronze, and steel made chains get rusted very quickly and require substantial maintenance.
#Step 2: Avoiding Corrosion around the Hardware
Turn the knobs on an electric guitar regularly: Knobs are used to control volume and tones. They are made up of metal hence vulnerable to corrosion. The easiest way to protect them from getting rusted is to turn them every time you play the guitar. Knobs are more likely to destroy when staying in one position and hardly turned ever. You might have realized that the knobs of a guitar you play more often turn so quickly whereas the guitar you don’t play much has jammed knobs. Turning knobs more frequently don’t let them jam and keep you updated about their condition.
Using a cotton swab to clean around the pickups on an electric guitar: pickups are most crucial to clean as this is the area where you pick tones. Pickups are magnets that capture the vibration produce with strings. The edges of pickups store dirt and are very difficult to clean. You cannot clean them with a piece of cloth but only with a tiny cotton swab. The best way to keep pickups clean is to remove the dust with cotton swabs weekly. Don’t leave them unclean for longer duration as more dirt will be extremely difficult to remove. Also avoid using any type of solution near pickups as it will lead to corrosion.
Oil the tuning pegs: tuning pegs also known as tuning keys play an important role in the overall performance of a guitar. To prevent their corrosion, you must oil them once in 3 to 4 months. Tuning pegs are made up of steel and get rusted if not lubricated consistently. You may find an oil or lubricant from a guitar store to grease the tuning pegs. Buy an oil bottle with a nozzle that allows the lubricant to come out in drops and prevents the excessive oiling.
Polishing the frets with steel wool: to clean the frets, first, you have to remove all the strings. Next, place the painter’s tape on each side of all frets. Now, use steel wool to rub each fret on the fingerboard gently. To pick up the residue of steel wool, use magnet that will attract every metal particle. Make sure you don’t buff too harshly or more than few seconds as excessive buffing will lead to an unwanted change in the shape of frets. Polishing of frets is only required twice a year.
#Step 3: Storing the Guitar
Keep the guitar in its case in break time: we have mentioned it before that when metal is exposed to environmental surroundings in the presence of moisture, corrosion takes place. This is the reason; you should keep your guitar in its case when not using it. Leaving it open allows dust particles and moisture in the air to rest on the guitar, resulting in faster corrosion. Every time after using the guitar, clean it and put it in its case to prevent all sorts of damages.
Monitor the humidity where the guitar is stored: the ideal humidity at which a guitar can be stored safely ranges from 45 to 55 percent. If the humidity level is higher, corrosion will take places faster. Make sure you store your guitar in a room that has normal humidity and for that reason, you can also use dehumidifier. Place the moisture absorbent packets in the guitar case and protect your instrument from getting rusted.
Store your guitar in a climate-controlled room for long-term storage: moisture absorbent packets are only effective when you are storing your guitar for a shorter period in a highly humid environment. If you need to store the guitar for longer duration, prefer climate controlled room. For an extended storage, avoid an overly dry or excessively humid place. You can also lend your guitar to someone to play it regularly while you are unable to do it yourself. It will keep the guitar in use so corrosion threat will be levied.
Like every other metal product, guitars are also prone to corrosion. Guitars are made up by assembling several metal made parts such as tuning pegs, strings and pickups. With regular cleaning and proper maintenance, you can prevent guitar corrosion and enjoy its rich sounds for longer period of time. Following the 3 methods of cleaning and maintenance we have mentioned in this article, you will be able to fight corrosion and use your guitar for an extended time without replacing its parts.